A retrospective study was undertaken of the results of surgery in a series of 782 patients with chronic otitis media. The recurrence rate of cholesteatoma was 20% of patients operated on by trainees and 12% operated on by the faculty. In ears with granulating otitis media, control of infection was achieved by trainees as often as by the faculty. The tympanic membrane healing rate of myringoplasty and tympanoplasty operations was 78% for trainees and 95% for the faculty (P < 0.001). Major surgical complications were relatively rare. It is concluded that the performance of trainees was fairly safe and better than expected, but some failures might have been prevented by closer supervision. Because of the decline in available patients for chronic ear surgery, it is suggested that the training programme should be restructured so that only those trainees who wish to pursue otological surgery as a career are trained in this field.